There’s a great article in the latest March/April 2013 issue of Modern Reformation Magazine interviewing Thomas Bergler about his book, The Juvenilization of American Chrisitanity. I haven’t read the book yet, but I enjoyed the interview. One thing that Bergler said particularly stood out to me:
We need to think about how we can facilitate meaningful interactions between young people and older adults.
This got me thinking. The older generation often thinks that the youth really want nothing to do with them. Especially these days, where technology and music have made so many leaps, perhaps the older adults are thinking that the younger crowd will not find them all that interesting. Maybe. But I think this goes both ways.
Sometimes I think we also need to examine our own prejudices against the youth. With their skinny jeans, blue striped hair, and their faces buried in their phones, we may be turned off by the culture of the youth in the same way that we accuse them for not valuing us. Can we look past the stereotype we have of them to see the growing person underneath?
One Sunday after serving in the nursery, I took a stroll upstairs to the sanctuary for some socializing when the worship service was through. I was chatting with a woman in her seventies whom I very much respect. I told her something funny that happened in the nursery and she responded, “I don’t know how you can handle the nursery so well, that just intimidates me now at my age.” Yes, I can imagine that chasing two-year-olds while keeping the babies happy gets even more challenging with age. But I suggested that the older generation may be even more intimidated by the teenagers, and yet the younger crowd could really benefit from their wisdom and care. My friend looked at me a little stunned and said, “I never thought about it that way, but I think I am intimidated by our teenagers.”
The thing is, although they really don’t show it, the teenagers do want these intergenerational relationships. They are intimidating. And I have even had to put a little work into reaching some of them. I’ve received the abrasive “I don’t care,” or “I’m busy,” only to then be followed with an apologetic email asking for a lunch date. I’ve built a few good relationships with some teenagers in church, and I have heard them say that they wished the older crowd would reach out to them more. I was kind of shocked too—they want these relationships! The question is, are we going to pursue them? I have to say that I hope some of the older, wiser women in my church reach out to my daughters and give me a hand. After all, my denomination promises to help raise them up in the Lord when they are baptized. These are covenant children.
One way that our church has facilitated meaningful interactions with the youth is by including them in our small groups. Our high school and sometimes middle school children participate in our nurture groups. I host one at my house. Sure, we need to confiscate the phones and deliberately ask them questions, or they will stay in their comfort zone of “looking cool.” But over time, we are getting familiar with the youth of our church. We are also showing them that we like spending time with them, and want to hear what they have to say. I personally would love to include the high school students in our Sunday school classes.
Don’t get me wrong; I don’t think that the youth ministry is a bad thing. But we should not constantly cut the youth off from the rest of the church. I like how Bergler put it:
Youth ministry is a triage that tries to rescue some young people from the damage that’s been done because of the distance between youth and adults. The reality is, of course, that while there are always young people who don’t want to go to church, there is almost no young person who would not like personalized mentoring from somebody. I think that says a lot. Young people are hungry for adults who truly care about them and who will truly listen to them—if only that level of investment on the part of all of us adults wouldn’t scare us off.